Funerals -- a Survivors' Guide
I am not a morbid person. Honestly. True, this is the third hub I've written on the subject of funerals and dying. With any luck, I will be taking a long hiatus to write about the joys of sending a son off to his senior prom, then college.
But for right now, the subject at hand is still funerals. Specifically, Mighty Mom's fresh-from-the-crematorium list of do's, dont's and general observations.
Planning the Funeral --Details Matter
Awhile back I wrote a hub about planning your own funeral. My Dad, who died November 24th, had almost all the important details dialed in. Still, the execution of his wishes could not have been done without the full cooperation of his three children, their spouses, and five grandchildren.
Probably the most important thing I can tell you is that funerals are expensive. Now prices may vary depending on where you live. I'm basing this on "Bay Area" (San Francisco) prices, which tend to be high by US standards. But my point is that you will need ready access to thousands of dollars when all is said and done.
This is a conservative estimate. We did a very straightforward cremation and funeral -- no wake. This meant we circumvented a casket (big money), but still had the following coordinated through (read: paid for through) the mortuary:
2. Cremains box
3. Prayer cards printing
4. Obituary/funeral notice -- appearance in three newspapers. Although we wrote it, the notices are charged by the inch (like a classified ad). This can add up.
5, Guest book for the church.
6. The mortuary also advised people wishing to send flowers how to get them sent directly to the church.
Total to Mortuary = $3,000
Expenses related to the service itself:
1. Fee paid to the parish
2. Fee paid to the celebrant
3. Fees paid to the organist, soloist and bagpiper
Service related expenses: $700
She Gets a "D" for Dignified
Very likely you'll have to travel to the funeral site. That means (potentially) last-minute airfare or gas (thank God gas prices have dropped!), hotels and meals.
Many people have appropriate funeral attire right in their closets. A dark suit works for gentlemen. Some variation on the "little black dress" (but not too evening-y or revealing unless covered by a jacket) or dark suit for women. Be sure to check for moth holes! Seriously, this is a real concern, as not one, but two people at my Dad's service had holes in their suit coats. Make sure your suit fits. Who wants to feel squeezed when they're already feeling sad???
More than likely you'll have to spring for at least a sport jacket or dress for your kids. My nephews got new suits but by with sneakers. I made sure my son (the eldest grandchild) dressed right. By right I mean brand new suit, shirt, tie, handkerchief, socks and shoes. Oh, and a set of smaller, more tasteful dark blue earrings to replace is large faux diamond studs. It all adds up.
Our family also sent flowers. We sent two arrangements from the grandkids and an arrangement from the kids. There's another $300.
The After Party
It's common etiquette to host a reception for those who take the time to come to the funeral service. Usually there's a hall next to the church. Many churches have auxiliary leagues that will organize and cater the party for you. But if you want something more specific or special, you may opt to do lunch at a restaurant or go back to the family home.
Any way you look at it, this is the equivalent of planning (and paying for) a party for dozens of grieving people. They will eat anythng you put out. They will drink everything you put out.
Oh yes: If the party is at your house, there's the added time/expense of cleaning before and after. I don't know about you, but my brother doesn't keep his home in funeral-ready condition. Neither do I, for that matter.
The Family After Party
We extended our day to include a second post-funeral event. The family, the priest, and a few close friends went out to dinner. It was a nice affair that gave us the opportunity to reminisce ,,,and drop another grand.
But Wait...There's More!
My Dad's funeral was on Wednesday. The following Sunday we had a memorial service at Springfield Place, the Retirement/Assisted Living Facility where he lived. They lose a lot of residents to death, so they have the memorial service down to a fine art. Well, not "fine" per se, but they do know how to set the chairs out so that wheelchairs and walkers can fit through.
I thought it was a nice idea and was particularly delighted that they said they'd cater it (cookies and tea). Come to find out, they'll be charging it to my Dad's final bill. Suddenly it doesn't strike me as so generous after all...
And after that's done we still have the interrment of the cremains to contend with. My Dad had his plot all pre-paid (another $1,200). He bought the space right next to Mom's -- how romantic. We're looking into capitalizing on his WWII service. I understand the Veterans' Administration will send us an American flag and have taps played. I may also bring the bagpiper back. I'm sure we'll go out to eat again. Something about funerals seem to make people hungry, and thirsty!
Freddie (Mercury) Does Funerals!
It's Just Another Day
Some words of advice for getting yourself through the day without falling apart.That old Paul McCartney song popped into my head and I just couldn't get it out. Turns out it was a good diversion. I found it most useful as I tried semi-desperately to stay in control and not break down.
I think it helped make the service feel more "normal" to drive up in our own cars rather than a limo. On the way over we stopped at Starbucks -- just like any other day. My husband turned on Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." Now my Dad had absolutely no connection to that song -- but it struck me as the perfect music to be listening to on the way to a funeral. On the way back we listened to Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" as chosen by my son. Again, a little private joke.
In between, I held it together by getting out of myself. This may sound awful, but it really worked (for me). If you have the luxury of attending the funeral with no public reading or speaking duties, go ahead and bawl your eyes out. But if you are required to read a passage, or, as I was, deliver the eulogy, composure counts.
I maintained mine by listening with only one ear to the priest. I patently refused to look at my sister (who was very emotional). I looked at the crucifix on the wall. I looked over at the Christmas tree which was decorated in all white. I looked at the pianist and soloist. I didn't zone out of the service completely -- just enough to keep its meaning from sinking in and sinking me into depression.
Look at it this way: There's plenty of time for reflection in the days and weeks to come. I had job to do and there was no way I was going to blow it.
Care and Feeding of Living
When a loved one dies, no matter how prepared you think you are, everything feels surreal. Time feels warped. You're literally running on adrenaline. It's essential to keep your energy up. Try to remember to eat -- anything that seems remotely appealing is better than eating nothing.
Stay hydrated. The temptation may be to drown your sorrows. Hold off until you can really let your guard down. You can't afford to lose hours or days to a hangover.
And you can't let yourself get run down. You've got important work to do and not a lot of time to get it done. You can crash later, but not yet.
Funeral for a Friend
Advice to Friends of the Grieving Person
There is no wrong way to comfort a grieving friend. Any expression of sympathy will be appreciated. Phone messages, e-cards, e-mails are all good. Just sitting and listening is wonderful. Sympathy cards are really nice also. The only "wrong" thing is to not acknowledge their loss. It WILL be noticed.
If you have personal experience with the deceased, be sure to mention a recollection or special memory. If you can bridge with your own experience losing, for example your own father or mother, mention something specific about how you coped. I had a good friend tell me about how she and her dad used to look up at the geese migrating. It was a ritual they shared before he died. Now, when I see geese flying in formation, it reminds me of her, of her dad, and of course of my dad.
As I mentioned on the Hubbers Hangout forum, I was truly overwhelmed with the outpouring from fellow hubbers. Beautiful comments, even original poems. Grief IS universal.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Okay, sure. Death can be creepy. It can be awkward. You don't know how your friend/business associate/neighbor who just lost a loved one might react. You may feel unsure how to approach him/her.
Your first instinct is probably to be helpful. Great impulse! Now just follow it. Instead of some vague "if there's anything you need, please let us know" offer, take matters into your own hands. Don't put the poor grieving person on the spot to tell you what they need (as if they even have a clue -- remember, their world is upside down at this point). Think of something you think they would need. Think what you would want in this situation. Think basic: Food. Diversion. Company. Errands. Babysitting.
When my single friend Mary's father passed, I took her out on the town. She remembers that gesture to this day.
When my Hubby and I arrived home following my Dad's passing we found a care basket on our doorstep. In it was a quart of soup, a loaf of French bread, and a book of Shel Silverstein poems. Now there's a friend who gets it.
Later in the week another friend brought another big pot of soup. And another stopped by just to check on us, bringing a lovely rosemary plant. And in between friends literally carried me out for coffee. A lot.
Simple things bring comfort. And comfort will be needed for weeks following the funeral, so continue to check in and make yourself available.
I wish you peace as you grapple with losing a loved one or with supporting someone you care about in their grief. As for me, I think it's time to start thinking about my next hub. Definitely won't be about funerals!
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